THE District of West Vancouver and the B.C. Assessment Authority are heading to court to fight a recent decision that slashed the assessed value of B.C. Ferries' Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal from more than $47 million to just $20.
West Vancouver Mayor Michael Smith called the decision of the Property Assessment Appeal Board "ridiculous," adding "to suggest that a large parcel of West Vancouver waterfront has no value is absurd."
The decision essentially strips the municipality of about $250,000 of anticipated property taxes in 2013, meaning a possible two per cent increase in property taxes for homeowners.
"It's a significant loss of revenue," said Smith. The board's decision is retroactive, meaning the district will be required to repay approximately $750,000 in property taxes it collected on the parcels going back to 2010.
But West Vancouver politicians said Monday they aren't going to accept the decision without a fight, voting unanimously to pursue the case in B.C. Supreme Court.
In an unusual move, the B.C. Assessment Authority itself is also appealing the decision.
The dispute revolves around two parcels of land at the ferry terminal leased from the province, which had been valued at a total of $47.7 million.
Prior assessments had put the land value at about $44.15 million in 2011 and $45.6 million in 2010.
But this year, the corporation decided to appeal its assessment.
Smith said the municipality knew about the appeal and thought the value might change slightly. He said he was "shocked and appalled" to hear about the magnitude of the change.
But in its decision, the board ruled the impact on West Vancouver isn't its concern.
"While this may appear to be an unfair result to the taxing municipality, fairness of a result does not arise as a consideration," the assessment board ruled.
B.C. Ferries argued the properties are essentially worthless, because they are restricted to use as a ferry terminal, and have no marketable value outside of that.
Calling the decision an example of provincial downloading on to municipalities, Smith pledged to try to reverse it.
One councillor took aim at B.C.'s government. "The provincial government has structured B.C. Ferries so that it's a money-losing proposition," said Coun. Craig Cameron. "We're being asked to subsidize that ferry operation."
The ruling could set a dangerous precedent, according to Grant McRadu, the district's chief administrative officer.
"We are only the first," McRadu said. "This is going to have enormous impacts on Delta, North Saanich, the City of Nanaimo."
Smith vowed to fight the decision both in court and using "every political means we can. "It's just totally unacceptable," he said. "This is going to have a huge impact."
The assessment board's ruling was largely based on a Newfoundland Supreme Court Case that pitted the town of Gander against the Gander International Airport. In that case, a parcel of land was found to have no value except as part of the airport.
It isn't the first time local governments on the North Shore have had assessment appeals wipe out millions of dollars of tax revenue. In 2006, City and District of North Vancouver lost their bid to overturn a property assessment appeal board ruling that slashed the assessed value of port lands occupied by Western Stevedoring Co. Ltd.
In that case, the property assessment appeal board ruled the port property could only be valued according to the restricted use imposed by the lease from the federal government.